Why some Brazilians see a silver lining in epic World Cup loss

Brazil's 7-1 loss to Germany could reignite tough debate over huge government spending on the World Cup. Some say that's a good thing.

Leo Correa
Brazil soccer fans wearing their team's colors react as they watch their team play Germany in a World Cup semifinal game. Germany handed Brazil its heaviest World Cup loss ever with an astounding 7-1 score.

It was a chance to chase away the ghosts of the 1950 World Cup final, when Brazil was upset by Uruguay. Instead, the first World Cup on Brazilian soil in 64 years became the medium last night for the national team to suffer another stunning loss – creating new demons for this soccer-obsessed nation.

“We’ll never forget it for the rest of our lives,” says Fabricio Bessa, one of hundreds of Brazilians who watched the match at the riverside plaza Estação das Docas in downtown Belém. 

But as the dust settles on the 7-1 loss to Germany, some Brazilians are cautiously hopeful, deploying humor to ease dashed hopes – and suggesting that the loss will renew much-needed scrutiny of the corruption-plagued event’s $11.3 billion price tag and legacy.

While polls had in recent weeks shown a brightening outlook for the economy and rising popularity for President Dilma Rousseff as Brazilians rallied around televisions to cheer on their Seleção, the mood may now revert to the pessimism of a year ago, when massive nationwide street demonstrations erupted in protest of corruption and poor social services. 

As recently as May, more than 61 percent of Brazilians believed the World Cup was bad for the country because it took money away from schoolshealthcare, and other services, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. Public anger has also been fueled by allegations of corruption within World Cup-related construction projects, many of which were either completed over budget – if completed at all – or marred by accidents such as last week’s collapse of a new bridge in Belo Horizonte. 

“I’m not upset that Brazil lost,” says Mr. Bessa, clad in a bright yellow Brazil jersey last night. “I’m upset because the government spent so much money hosting the World Cup. If Brazil had won, everyone would have forgotten about all the problems here. I’m glad they lost.”

Bessa’s wife Renata was less triumphant, however. “I expected Brazil to be champions,” she says, her face showing pain. “I expected this to be their sixth World Cup title.”

The differing reactions between husband and wife are a microcosm of the national mood today – a mix of anger and sadness, frustration and disbelief – as Brazil struggles to understand what happened on the pitch against Germany. Was it the absence of star striker Neymar and defender Thiago Silva? Is Germany really that good? Or had the weight of expectation from 200 million rabid fans caused the team to crack?

"Honestly, it's hard to explain,” Brazilian goalie Julio Cesar said after the match. “You can't explain the inexplicable.”

In the wake of the loss renewed jeers were hurled at President Rousseff and minor vandalism erupted in São Paulo, but for now much of Brazil appears to be coping with the humiliating loss in true Brazilian form – by turning to humor. Even before the match ended last night, the incredulous crowd here in Belém began exchanging snarky comments on their smartphones and even cheering sarcastically as Germany scored goal after goal.

Among the memes popping up across social media was an image of Brazil’s iconic statue Christ the Redeemer alternately weeping into a stone hand and morphed into German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Passing jokes were that Brazil was about to win a new record for greatest-ever defeat, and that morning talk shows would need to start early to report all of Germany’s goals. More bitter was a remark that Brazil had found a spectacular way to erase the memories of its 1950 defeat.

“There’s a feeling of shock, like it’s not real,” says Lucas Guerra, an optometrist in Belém. “I think I’ll wake up and things will change.”  

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